Title favorites Mac Haifa, Mac TA start strong

Bnei Yehuda opens new-look Bloomfield with conquest of K8 • Beitar draws 0-0 with Beersheba

By JOSHUA HALICKMAN
August 27, 2019 01:35
4 minute read.
Beitar Jerusalem vs Hapoel Beersheba

Beitar Jerusalem vs Hapoel Beersheba. (photo credit: DANNY MARON)

In the opening weekend of the 2019/20 Israel Premier League, Maccabi Haifa defeated Hapoel Ra’anana 4-3 to open the campaign with a barn-burner of a contest at Sammy Ofer Stadium.

The two sides treated the 18,000 fans to an offensive showcase with plenty of drama and action throughout the 90 minutes. Ra’anana took a quick 2-0 lead thanks to an Or Dasa brace, but Greens newcomer Tjaronn Chery and striker Nikita Rukavtsya made all the difference for the hosts as Marko Balbul squad would not be outdone in front of its faithful supporters.

The game got off to a fast start as Dasa scored his first of two in the fifth minute. A poor pass by Allyson Dos Santos was picked off by Kayes Ganem, who in turn handed it to Dasa as the speedster beat Guy Haimov for 1-0 lead. Dasa doubled the advantage in the 24th minute when he sent home his second of the contest thanks to a Eugene Ansah cross.

However, Balbul inserted Chery five minutes later in favor of Dos Santos in a move that paid immediate dividends. With Haifa pressing to get back into the game, Yuval Ashkenazi scored from inside the box and Eyad Habshi nodded home a Chery corner just before the break to draw even at 2-2 after 45 minutes of end-to-end excitement.

Menachem Koretsky’s side calmed down to begin the second half and retook the lead in the 65th minute via an Adi Nimni penalty following a Habshi handball in the area, but that didn’t stop the Greens as they pushed for the equalizer. Rukavytsya beat Ra’anana ’keeper Asaf Tzur in the 84th minute and headed home the winner five minutes later to complete the comeback and allow Haifa to grab the three points.

“This was a crazy game,” said an exhausted Balbul following the match. “Mistakes can happen, but not when we wanted to start off on the right foot. We knew how to calm things down after they took a 2-0 lead and I brought on Chery which made a difference. But after they scored the penalty we went for broke and we came back. There is plenty we need to improve, but it’s easier to do so when you win.”

Rukavytsya spoke of the team’s mental toughness in the face of adversity.

“I think we showed a lot of character and ability,” said Rukavytsya. “This was a tough match and we were able to do a good job mentally as we fought until the end and didn’t give up.”

Elsewhere, Bnei Yehuda opened up the newly renovated Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv with a 2-1 win over Ironi Kiryat Shmona, needing a strike deep into injury time to take the victory.

Cillian Sheridan scored the first goal at the reconstructed facility to give the northern visitors a 1-0 lead, but Mohammad Ghadir headed in the equalizer just after halftime off a tremendous cross by Dor Elo.

Referee Eli Hachmon sent off a pair of Kiryat Shmona players drawing the ire of club owner Izzy Sheratsky, however it looked like Messay Dego’s squad would hold on to win a hard-earned point.

But Alban Pnishi had the final word as he slammed home a 98th-minute rebound to give Yossi Abuksis’s side the three points just before Bnei Yehuda hosts Malmo in the return leg of their Europa League Playoff tie after falling 3-0 last week in Sweden.

Also, Beitar Jerusalem and Hapoel Beersheba played to a goalless draw in a highly anticipated first-round contest at Teddy Stadium in the capital.

Roni Levy’s yellow-and-black was the better side throughout the 90 minutes, attacking down the wings and up the middle using tremendous speed and guile by Gadi Kinda and Levi Garcia. But heroic saves by Barak Bachar’s ’keeper Ernestas Setkus gave the visitors a point ahead of their second-leg Europa League clash on Thursday night against Feyenoord, as Beersheba will attempt to overcome a 3-0 first-leg loss in Holland.

Defending champion Maccabi Tel Aviv began its campaign with a 2-0 win over newly promoted Ness Ziona, which returned to the top flight after 51 years in the lower divisions of Israeli soccer. Last year’s Player of the Season Dor Micha blasted home a first-half goal thanks to a brilliant Dan Glezer assist while Eliran Atar slotted home an 11-meter spot kick to enable the yellow-and-blue to take the points.

Ashdod SC and Hapoel Hadera each came away with a point in a 1-1 draw. Shlomi Azoulay gave the port city side the lead when he curled a magnificent ball behind Austin Ejide, but Lucio drew his squad even thanks to a smart header which he put into the corner of the goal to split the points.

Meanwhile, Hapoel Haifa used a fluke goal by Eli Balilty in the 74th minute to defeat Hapoel Kfar Saba 1-0 at the Moshava Stadium.

The defensive back crossed the ball into the box as he looked to find a teammate in the area, but ended up shooting and beating Kfar Saba ’keeper Itamar Israeli to take home the win ahead of Saturday night’s derby against Maccabi Haifa.

Hapoel Tel Aviv hosted Maccabi Netanya on Monday night to close out Round 1 in a match that finished after press time.


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